Flash Gordon

Gordon Ramsay is at the top of his field with a US $80 million business and a string of accolades and restaurants to his name. Here, he talks to Laura Barnes about how he maintains the high standards he has come to expect, and what really sets him apart from the rest

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By  Laura Barnes Published  May 4, 2006

|~|Gordon-Ramsay-in-the-HDC-ki.jpg|~|“Cooking is a passion, not a job, and I get very frustrated when I see young cooks coming into the industry who are over sensitive about being told off. It is all part of the learning"|~|“Cooking is the most amazing job in the world when you are good at it.” Coming from Gordon Ramsay that is an understatement. He is at the top of his profession, with restaurants worldwide; a development kitchen; an operations floor; a Gordon Ramsay school, and a scholarship award scheme. With over 1000 staff and an annual turnover of $80 million, Gordon Ramsay Holdings is a mass operation that didn’t just happen over night. Ramsay, who worked his way through the ranks under the likes of Albert Roux and Marco Pierre White, worked hard to get where he is today, and he says he wouldn’t change a thing. The low wages and long hours have paid off. “I had the most amazing experiences but I had to work my balls off, and when I cocked up I had to pay the price for it,” says Ramsay. “Cooking in the premier league of restaurants, a mistake is ten times more damning, so when I give my guys wrap it is because my reputation is on the line,” he adds. Because his name really is on the line with any new project or restaurant opening, Ramsay is heavily involved when deciding who will work for him and represent him in his numerous outlets across the globe. Opened in 2001, Verre by Gordon Ramsay at the Hilton Dubai Creek was his first international restaurant outside of the UK, and in order to maintain the usual high standard expected, he asked chef Angela Hartnett to head up operations in Dubai. Following on from Angela was chef Jason Atherton, both of which have now returned to the UK and are big stars in London, just proving what a hit Verre has been — not only for Dubai — but for Gordon Ramsay Holdings on a global scale. Jason Whitelock has now taken the helm as executive chef of Verre, and Ramsay could not be happier with the restaurant. “Jason is a very talented man and he would not let himself down, or equally let me down by selling something inadequate. We have survived through some tough times (the opening of Verre was set for September 11, 2001, but was naturally put back), but the level of consistency in Verre and Glasshouse can match any restaurant in London,” Ramsay comments. “To maintain this standard and not have the invasion of the AA Guide, the Good Food Guide or the Michelin Guide; to maintain that, and be that good and not have the pressure from critics, is extraordinary.” Only last month Verre was voted Restaurant of the Year 2006 and Best Contemporary European restaurant by Time Out Dubai, an accolade that shows that after five years it still has a place in a city that has no end of new restaurant openings. “We have become a kind of beacon, Nobu is coming soon and all these chefs are beginning to arrive. When I came here there really was no one, but I think we have helped change the attitude [of gastronomy in Dubai],” says Ramsay. But it did have its risks. Opening after 9/11, business was not at its peak anywhere in the region, and maintaining standards whilst being based in the UK, Ramsay had to be confident in his staff, the ingredients and the hotel. “The Hilton at the time was a new build, and it was designed by the most amazing architect, Carlos Ott. The first impression it gave me was stunning; it was a great opportunity,” he says. In order to maintain the same high standards as he would expect in the UK, Ramsay played an important part in sourcing ingredients. Although a percentage of ingredients come from Paris, Ramsay keeps the menu as seasonal as possible, with vegetables imported from India, 40% of the meat flown in from Australia, and fish sourced locally. On the back of Dubai, Gordon Ramsay Holdings has now opened a restaurant in Tokyo, and this year will see the company open restaurants in New York, Miami and Los Angeles. There is also talk of another restaurant opening on Sheikh Zayed Road within the next two years. “If I hadn’t got it right in Dubai I don’t think I would be where I am today on this global scale,” says Ramsay. While based in the UK, Gordon Ramsay Holdings still has a major influence over any restaurant based overseas, with key management staff, menu development and up keep of the website all controlled from the company’s headquarters in the UK. “Our offices cost £3 million ($5 million) to set up. Now you don’t become that busy and then think ‘Christ, I need to set up an infrastructure’. You set up an infrastructure first and then you take on that level of commitment,” Ramsay points out. Although Gordon Ramsay asserts time and time again that ‘he is a cook’, he has a lot more strings to his bow. Not only is he a savvy businessman, he is eager to nurture young, raw talent through his training school and scholarship awards. Established in 2001, the Gordon Ramsay Scholarship Award has helped to propel the career of unknown chefs, and funded personally by Ramsay for the first year, it was a £250,000 ($440,000) investment that came straight from his bottom line. However, he saw it as a way of giving something back.||**|||~|gordon-1body.jpg|~|Although Ramsay is keen to promote up and coming chefs through his restaurants, scholarship programme and training school, he believes chefs should make sure they are ready to progress to the next level.|~|“I’m not saying I’m an ambassador for the industry but I worked my f******g b******s off to get where I am today, and I got frustrated with what was happening with the NVQ as I didn’t find it dynamic in any shape or form. I was all for the re-introduction of modern day apprenticeships so I started up the scholarship programme,” comments Ramsay. Ramsay also adds that winning the accolade of National Chef of the Year at the age of 25 gave him an amazing platform. Not only did it make him feel less insecure about his cooking, it propelled his career forward and made him realise the importance of working for longer and harder; without having to take a good salary. “When a chef comes in and asks that dreaded question of how much money they will earn, it is always for the wrong reasons. If you play your cards right in a way that you invest in your experience, then money will come tenfold,” he adds. Hoping to introduce the scholarship programme to Dubai next year, Ramsay will set up an international heat to search for the best talent in Dubai. They will then compete with the best of the British talent — a sure fire sign that the talent in Dubai is on the rise. Gordon Ramsay’s training school has also allowed him to mark out up and coming talent. Although he laughs about his college days, it has obviously made him persevere to provide a top class school, offering students the chance to work alongside well-known and established chefs. “The closest I got to any form of famous chef when I was at college was Anton Mosimann’s bow tie that he had donated to the college and was in a glass box at the entrance,” reminisces Ramsay. “Walking into college everyday you would almost stop for 30 seconds, pondering about Anton Mosimann who was the executive chef of the Dorchester Hotel, who spoke five languages, had a brigade of 120, and who is famous for wearing his bow tie under his chef’s uniform. That was the closest I ever got to any form of fame in the industry; how sad is that? But it kept you going,” he adds. Nowadays, Ramsay takes a firm stance when it comes to training, and although his critics may slam him for his sometimes harsh views, he says that to get the best he has to “cut through the c**p.” “Cooking is a passion, not a job, and I get very frustrated when I see young cooks coming into the industry who are over sensitive about being told off. It is all part of the learning,” he says. As part of his training scheme, young chefs are sat down and blindfolded. A dish will then be placed in front of them with four or five flavours. Until a chef can identify every flavour on the plate, they cannot progress. For Ramsay, cooking for your eyes is a cardinal sin, cooking for flavour is paramount. “It is a pretty firm and hard approach but that is my method and it works. And I tell you what, their palettes get educated,” comments Ramsay. Although Ramsay is keen to promote up and coming chefs through his restaurants, scholarship programme and training school, he believes chefs should make sure they are ready to progress to the next level. And while Ramsay admires Dubai for its multicultural society and its intensity, he is worried that the string of new hotel and restaurant openings is seeing chefs being promoted too soon, and training sacrificed in order to open restaurants as soon as possible. “It always worries me when somewhere develops so quickly, as it is impossible to get that level of talent to propel at the same speed. It doesn’t happen like that; you end up having a sous chef taking a head chef’s job two years earlier than anticipated. But they don’t realise, you cannot turn back from that first ever head chef’s job. If you get amazing training then you are fine, otherwise you can forget it,” he warns. From the age of 18 to 30, Gordon says that chefs need to treat their job as a sponge — absorbing as much as possible. He also adds that in order to gain valuable experience, every chef should spend 18 months to two years in four or five kitchens across the world, as well as speak a second language to improve their confidence. However, regardless of talent or experience, Ramsay says that the worst thing a chef can become is stagnant. And although he has never had any intention in being trendy — labelling it one of the biggest mistakes a chef can make — he has to constantly look ahead and offer his customers something different. With a stream of regular diners at his outlets across London, and now Dubai and Tokyo, he has to always give his customers something new, but something that constantly represents his brand. “The one thing I have never managed to do is to become stale. I think one of the most damning and frustrating things when you take a job is that you get sucked into the slipstream, and ten years go by without evolving. There are two ways in cooking; you move with it, or it moves you,” warns Ramsay. “The most exciting thing for chefs today is the variety of places you can work in, so don’t sit back on your laurels.” ||**||

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